Have you been here?
Tuttle Creek Ashram
The Tuttle Creek Ashram is situated at an altitude of seventy-six-hundred feet on a steep ridge between the north and south forks of Tuttle Creek, a stream that flows briskly through a glacially carved canyon in the granitic Sierra Nevada Mountains. Built in the shape of a balanced cross, the ashram is a two-thousand-square-foot structure of natural stone and concrete, with a cement floor, heavy-beam roof, and a large fireplace; the stonework of the ashram blends so well into the ridge that the building is hard to see even from a distance of one-half of a mile away.
The history of this remarkable building can be traced back to 1928, when Franklin Merrell-Wolff and his wife Sherifa first visited the area west of Lone Pine, California. Here stands Mount Whitney, which at the time was the tallest peak in the United States. The couple had been told by an Indian acquaintance that the spiritual center of a country was close to its highest point of elevation, and for this reason they sought a nearby location to work on several writing projects. Starting at the legendary Olivas Ranch, Wolff and his wife packed their typewriters and camping supplies onto burros and hiked up to Hunter's Camp, a flat area at the base of Mount Whitney. The pair set up camp near a waterfall on Lone Pine Creek, and spent the next two months contemplating and writing. Later that year, the couple founded the Assembly of Man, an educational institution with a generally theosophical orientation. As part of this work, the couple decided to start a summer school near the area they had camped the previous summer. Wolff made inquiries to the U.S. Forest Service about a special use permit for the school, and was informed that in order to receive authorization for such an operation in the High Sierra Primitive Area, the As.sembly would be obliged to erect some sort of permanent structure. Moreover, he was notified that building permits for the Hunt.er's Camp area were not available. Accordingly, Wolff explored the next canyon south for a suitable site, and found a spot high in a beautiful pi–on pine forest surrounded by two branches of a clear, cold creek. The founders of the Assembly of Man decided that the remote and quiet wilderness of Tuttle Creek Canyon would provide the ideal atmosphere for their summer school. Wolff and the
members of the Assembly of Man received permission from the Forest Service to operate a summer school on Tuttle Creek in 1930, but it would be almost ten years before a site was leveled for a structure. Wolff handled all of the dynamite used to blast a flat area, and as rock began piling up, he got the idea to use it in the construc.tion of the building. The structure was laid out roughly along the four cardinal points of the compass, and built in the shape of a balanced cross to symbolize the principle of equilibrium.
Building materials such as lumber and cement were initially brought to the site on the backs of burros from Olivas Ranch, and the site was approached from the north side of the canyon. Later, Wolff cleared an access road on the south side of the canyon, which could accommodate a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer. Wolff and his students would spend the next ten summers working on the ashram, spending their days engaged in hard labor and their evenings with music and study around a campfire. The group also held formal services at the site, with Wolff and Sherifa officiating. A large altar was constructed on the floor of the structure, using randomly patterned granite stones set in mortar; the altar was topped by a smooth covering of mortar. Originally, there was no inscription on the altar, but sometime in the 1960s, an unknown visitor chiseled these words into the top face:
Father, Into thy eternal wisdom, all creative love, and infinite power I direct my thoughts,
give my devotion and manifest my energy That I may know, love, and serve thee.
Just south of the altar, in the concrete floor, is a thirty-two inch square hole. This spot was called 'the cornerstone,' and was where a person addressing the congregation was to stand. Over the years, the stonework walls, a large stone fireplace, two intersecting heavy-beamed gable roofs, and the window and door casings were all completed. But in 1951, before the windows and doors were installed, work ceased on the ashram because Sherifa, whom Wolff credits as being the main impetus behind the project, was no longer able to make the trip up to the building site. The name of the building was originally the 'Ajna Ashrama'; today Wolff's students refer to it simply as 'The Ashrama.' Lone Pine residents often refer to it as 'The Monastery' and one can find it called 'The Stone House' in hiking guides; it is known by the U.S. Forest Service as the 'Tuttle Creek Ashram.'
In 1964, the ashram was threatened with demolition when Congress passed the Wilderness Act, and Tuttle Creek Canyon became part of the John Muir Wilderness. Since the site had not been used as a school for over ten years, the Forest Service invoked a clause that allowed the agency to terminate Wolff's special use permit. Moreover, since buildings are not typically permitted in Wilderness Areas, the Forest Service considered dynamiting the structure into rubble.
In the early 1980s, however, the Forest Service evaluated the ashram for historical significance, and concluded that the structure was indeed significant; the California State Historic Preservation Officer concurred. At the time, several video documentaries were made in an effort to help preserve the ashram: The Philosopher's Stone (1980) and Ashrama Man (1983) are both available for viewing on the Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship's website. In June 1998, the Inyo Register ran an article intimating that the ashram was in danger of demolition, but the Heritage Resources Program Manager at the local Forest Service office reiterated in the article that the ashram had been put on the removal list without any proper evaluation, and that 'The Forest Service would be looking at preserving this… unique architectural property.' Toward this end, it was planned to have the ashram nominated for recognition in the National Register of Historic Places, but these plans were never culminated; the topographical site plan and floor plan below are taken from the nomination form.
A 23-minute film that documents some of the construction of the Ashrama (in 1940) may be viewed on the website at www.merrell-wolff.org/fmw/ashrama
Endnotes  Tuttle Creek descends from Mt. Langley (14,042 feet) to the town of Lone Pine, California.  When Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, Mt. McKinley (Denali) became the highest point in the United States.  Located at an altitude of
eight-thousand feet, this area was also known as 'Hunter Flat'; both names honored William L. Hunter, an early pioneer of Owens Valley and one of the two men who made the first ascent of nearby Mt. Williamson in 1884. (Mt. Williamson is the second highest peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.) The name of this area was changed to 'Whitney Portal' after the official opening of an automobile road to the flat in June 1936.  Wolff began writing his first book, which would be published under the title Yoga: Its Problems, Its Purpose, Its Technique; Sherifa drafted a Sanskrit dictionary called 'Devan.gar.,' as well as several other essays.  Faustin Bray & Brian Wallace, The Philosopher's Stone (Mill Valley, Calif.: Sound Photosynthesis, 1980); Ashrama Man (Mammoth, Calif.: Mammoth TV, 1983). Both of these interviews may be accessed on the Interviews page under the Franklin Merrell-Wolff tab.  Julian Lukins, 'Efforts under way to preserve ashram,' Inyo Register, June 13, 1998. Except where otherwise noted, content on the Franklin Merrell-Wolff Fellowship website by the Editors and Authors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-Share-A-Like 4.0 International License.
Eastern Sierra Exploratory 2018
June 21-23, 2018
By Ron Lipari
Mignon Slenz, Mike Vollmert and I met at the Eastern California Museum in Independence on Wednesday, June 20, and spent some time touring the museum’s exhibits which included both Native American artifacts and many historical items as well. Photographs recording the history of the Eastern Sierra were also very interesting! We then met Bob and Sue Jaussaud at what I will call Jerry Harada’s Stamp Mill. Jerry loved the Eastern Sierra and fishing, and he loved camping on Tinemaha Creek just south of Big Pine. In April 2015 Jerry led a trip to his Stamp Mill as well as a refining mill nearby – this trip included Bob, Sue, and myself. None of us could remember where the mill was located, but, I found a picture of the mill on my cell phone. Not being an “advanced techie” I did not realize that the DropBox App has the GPS coordinates of every picture taken by my cell phone!! I sent the coordinates to both Mike and Bob who promptly found the location of the stamp mill. The mill is not well known and hidden from view in a canyon. Only one stamp is left in the three stamp mill, but it still is a remarkable place!! We then visited the nearby refining mill which has been partially rehabilitated with new timbers and rafters. The mill still had an intact Pelton wheel which provided power for the entire operation.
Leaving Jerry’s Stamp Mill we drove up to Bishop Creek to camp at 7500 feet on McGee Creek in the Buttermilks. We had camped there last year and I was attempting to find the route up to the camp. However, the usual route was blocked by a locked chain gate. Mignon to the rescue, she remembered the road we had taken which led directly to the cool and pleasant camp covered with beautiful iris flowers and next to a wonderful stream. It was nice to leave the high temps of Bishop and camp at altitude! We were all treated to a great meal by Sue – taco salad and a dessert of home-made brownies!
The next morning we met Nelson Miller, Ellen Miller, Marion Johns and Neal Johns in Bishop to join us for the rest of the trip. We headed up to Bridgeport and to Masonic Road. We were again at altitude and the weather was delightful. We soon arrived at the Success Mine and the Chemung Mine. The Chemung Mine was in operation from 1909 to 1938 producing both high-grade and low-grade gold ore. The mill and various buildings are still standing and contain cyanide stirring machinery to separate the gold ore.
We then headed to the town of Masonic where gold was discovered in 1862. Apparently one of the co-founders of the mine, J. A. Phillips, ended up dead at the bottom of a shaft – possibly the work of one of the other partners in the venture! There still stands remains of a partial mill, hilltop tram works as well as a number of log cabins.
We then continued out of the town of Masonic heading towards Nevada to the East Fork of the Walker river. Arriving at the Elbow of the East Fork of the Walker river, we found some very nice campsites on the river and explored the area. It was decided that we would head to Aurora as it was still early in the afternoon. We continued our tour up to the higher elevations of Aurora, Nevada. When we arrived we immediately set up camp in the pine trees and were treated to a wonderful dinner prepared by Mignon that included a stew of sausage, rice and beans as well as cole slaw! In addition Ellen brought her famous strawberry salad. We were never short of dessert as Marion brought two cakes – lemon and chocolate – no caloric deficit on this trip! After dinner we visited the Aurora cemetery - a very moving experience - especially when reading the grave markers of children. Bob remembered visiting this area with Bob Martin many years before and was interested in finding a particular epitaph. However, the cemetery has been vandalized in the past including the attempted removal of grave makers. The most notable desecration was the headstone of William E. Carder, a notorious criminal and gunfighter who was assassinated by a man whom he threatened in preceding days. His wife Annie erected the headstone but it was toppled by vandals in an attempt to steal it. All of us lamented the indiscriminate destruction of artifacts and cannot understand why anyone would do this.
We then headed to what is left of the town of Aurora. Aurora was made the county seat of Mono County in California in 1862. However, after surveyors determined that Aurora was indeed in Esmeralda County, Nevada, the Mono County seat was moved to Bridgeport where it remains to this day. The Aurora cemetery contained the grave of W. M. Boring, Nevada Senator who died in 1872 aged 43 years. Bob quipped that the senator's name was appropriate for his chosen profession — a politician!!
We then traveled up Bodie canyon where we came upon the ruins of an old mill. The mill had two different ore crushers that none of us had seen before, however, Bob had seen this mill prior to that time on his trip with Bob Martin years before. We then traveled out of Bodie Canyon over the pass which brought us to beautiful views of the surrounding country and through a maze of wildflowers. Mike, Sue, Ellen and Marion all identified the various flowers including the Mariposa Lily, which apparently looks like another flower of a different name which I cannot recall. I do know the flowers were spectacular, with the prettiest being the red and yellow Columbine!!
Traveling this road, which was not well traveled, we finally made it to the north side of Mono Lake. After checking out some beautiful springs – not warm springs – we arrived at a lovely park just north of Lee Vining and had lunch. After lunch we headed towards the town of Benton and over Montgomery pass to the Montgomery ten stamp mill. Arriving at this mill it was stated that it might be one of the most intact mills in the country, as it still has all ten brakes on the stamps when it was last stopped! The reason it is so intact is because it is a difficult hike to get to the mill and it is on a steep hillside. Also found was a steam motor and part of a cable system which brought ore to the stamp mill. All agreed that this was an amazing place.
Next we headed to the Montgomery pass cabins located just below the stamp mill, but because the road down to the cabins was impassable, we were required to go all the way around the mountain to get to them. Once more we arrived to what we thought was the road to the cabins, but alas it was not. Now remember we had just been there a year ago and we could not remember how to get there – must be our age??? Bob finally remembered where the road was located and we made it to the cabins on a just freshly graded dirt road! Camping that evening we had a pasta dinner with salad and cake for dessert. The next morning we hiked up the road from the cabins to Gold Hill and found the ruins of a smelter works. The group then headed out of the mountains into Nevada and headed up Trail Canyon to the Queen Anne mine, which Sue shared was mined for antimony and mercury. This road headed over the White Mountains back to Highway 6. Marion, who has been most places,remembered going over this route from Highway 6 over to Nevada — the opposite direction we were traveling. She also remembered that the road over the pass was VERY steep at the top. But this road had just been graded – so onward we traveled. We passed some beautiful small lakes being fished by successful fishermen. We had lunch at the Boundary Peak trailhead, then continued on our journey over the mountain – which did not disappoint. Not only did Marion remember the road, but was correct in that it was very STEEP! All of us finally made it over the top without incident – albeit a little shaky!
On the other side of the pass we found several mines. Noteworthy were the Morgan Mine and the Abbot Mine both of which still had cabins standing and contained therein a portion of a mill. We continued down this roadway back to Highway 6 - over Montgomery Pass to Dyer, Nevada to gas up. We then headed to Lower Cottonwood Creek to camp on the last evening. We arrived and camped under the shade of the Cottonwood trees next to a lovely stream. The only thing to do was to sit in the stream and enjoy the cool water – which most of us did! It was delightful and added to our happy hour enjoyment placing our chairs in the stream and sipping our adult beverages and enjoying a dinner of leftovers!!
A big thanks to Mike and Bob for all of the route finding on this trip. Their GPS devices were invaluable - and it was much appreciated. A great time was had by all!! ~ Ron
2018 Rondy Petroglyph Tour
Trip report and photos by Jerry Dupree
One of the highlights of this year's Rondy was the petroglyph tour on the China Lake Naval Weapons Base. The trip was planned months in advance for a maximum of 20 people. Each person filled out a thorough three page security application form and our vehicles were searched for contraband such as fire arms, alcohol, or whatever. We had to wake up very early, pack and check out of our hotel, eat breakfast, and gather at the museum at 6:15 a.m. It turned out to be a "hurry up and wait" situation and we finally got under way and then stopped at the place where our vehicles were searched, which further delayed us. We finally got rolling
again and were stopped due to some top secret activity ahead of us. We were not permitted to get out of our vehicles.
We got to the parking lot leading to a small canyon and there was a restroom. There were friendly and knowledgeable guides who were about a five to one ratio. We were required to be accompanied by a guide everywhere we went. Walking started out easy until we had to crawl and slide down rocks to a lower level. There are at least 10,000 petroglyphs on the rocks on both sides of the canyon. They date at least 20,000 years of human history. They depict animals such as big horn sheep, dogs, quail, people using early weapons, and unidentifiable designs. The petroglyphs were made by chipping or etching the accumulation of "desert varnish", leaving the underlying rock which creates the design. The age of the petroglyph can be determined by the amount of desert varnish that has formed back since the original design was made. Another way is by the type of weapon the figures are shown with. The earlier petroglyphs show a type of spear launcher, while the more recent ones are shown with a bow and arrow. The bow and arrow had many advantages including range, accuracy, and most importantly, the ability to launch an arrow laying down rather than a spear from a standing position.
As I looked at the petroglyphs that were made over a span of 20,000 years, I was wondering why the artistic ability remained unchained rather than evolving to better
artistry. In looking at children's art I notice more complex abilities as the children develop technique and ability. First graders tend to draw stick figures with each design standing alone. Second graders include scenes such as a sun with a smile, houses with smoke coming from chimneys, groups of people such as a family, clouds, and birds flying. By the third grade, the scenes show proportional arms, legs, clothing, hats, and detailed animals such as dogs and cats. As each child matures, so does their art. The pictures are from front and side angles with facial expressions. The petroglyphs don't show this kind of progression. I tend to think the "artists" were likely to be young children in each generation performing this activity while the adults and older children were hunting and gathering food. That's my theory based on observation of children expressing themselves in graphic art and clay sculptures.
I decided not to continue the trip further down the canyon and turned back. On the way back I slipped on a smooth rock and fell down. It could have been serious if I hadn't landed the way I did.
I could have broken ribs, arms, and wrists. I was stiff and sore for a long time after the incident. I am disappointed that I am no longer young enough and not in physical shape like I used to be. Nothing got hurt except my dignity. ~ Jerry
2018 Rondy Outbound - Red Rock Canyon & El Paso Mountains
Words by Jay Lawrence, photos from Julie Smith, Allan Wicker and Jay Lawrence
How to spend a great Sunday getting from Ridgecrest to somewhere closer to home? First gather a congenial group: In this case Allan and Ding Wicker, Dave Rehrer, Bill and Julie Smith, Bill Powell, Leonard and Rebecca Friedman and fearful leader Jay "Wait, this isn't Mexico!" Lawrence. Next, throw in an unexpected challenge: This morning started with an interesting twist. Dave's truck shell refused to open and every bit of important gear and food he owned was stuck inside with no way to get in. The sliding window was waaaaay too small for any adult human to crawl through and there were no stray children to draft into service... The back window wouldn't budge for a tool to slide in... After much head scratching, Bill Powell approached the brand new Tacoma and shell with a long-handled ax. Onlookers gasped! Bill Casually reached through the tiny forward window and unlatched the shell side window by hooking the ax head over the latch and pulling. Like he does this for a living. Anyway, Bill and Dave prevailed, the shell was open and we were ready for travel.
With some gorgeous brilliant blue skies and spectacular clouds overhead, our intrepid crew headed south from the Rondy site in Ridgecrest on 395 to the Garlock - Redrocks - Randsburg Road. We traveled west to the southern end of Red Rock Canyon State Park, where we enjoyed a scenic loop on the east side of Highway 14 into a seldom visited southeeast backroad corner of the park. We were rewarded with views of beautiful uplifted and eroded cliffs in colors from pale green to gray to tan to coral pink then teased by signs that kept us from visiting a protected area for raptors that is only open during the hottest part of the year, right when you should really be at the beach with a fruity drink in your hand, not in the Mojave desert.
We headed out and west to the park information center and had lunch at one of the shaded benches and talked about the area. Red Rocks is a big place, with some monumental rock formations, camping areas and off-road zones dotting the side west of Highway 14.
Bill Powell said his goodbyes and headed north to Oregon, Ding and Allan headed out to do some photography and get an early start south and the rest of us saddled up for a loop around the northeast part of Red Rocks through the El Paso Mountains.
Our first stop was the Old Dutch Cleanser Mine, an extensive series of large tunnels carved out of a large, slanted deposit of seismotite (also known as pumicite). The Cudahy Packing Company mined this deposit from 1923 until 1947. The 25 foot tall veins are riddled with corridors supported by huge columns of material and run deep through the mountain with openings at the top and side for transport by 1-1/2 ton ore carts along the
clifftop to be dumped into tram cars and trucked to the Cudahy Camp in the valley 700 feet below. Foundations and iron hardware from the tram and ore cart cables are still visible today. The 288 acre claim is privately owned and available for the princely sum of $1,150,000 in case you would like to get into the pumicite business. For now, it's an unique landmark that offers some interesting history and otherworldly photos.
We moseyed east along the southern border of the Black Mountain Wilderness to the Old Post Office in Bonanza Gulch, a site where gold was discovered in 1893 and has been mined ever since. Several cabins dot the area, including the Sears, the Lundquist and Tait-Johnson Cabins. We met Tom, a 4WD enthusiast happily occupying the Sears cabin waiting for his group to arrive. The story goes that it got its name because it was built with crates from a Sears department store.
A mile south and a bit east we hit Bickel Camp, a real open-air museum of old mining gear, early tractors and trucks, rocks, cable, drilling equipment and odds and ends. Walt Bickel was a miner and heavy equipment mechanic who lived and worked there until his death in 1996. Today the camp is looked after by volunteers and is sometimes staffed by a caretaker, Joel Nalley. It's an amazing place, worthy of an afternoon of exploration.
Our final stop on the Bonanza Gulch / Last Chance Canyon loop was Burro Schmidt's tunnel, a half-mile hole through granite bedrock that exits overlooking Koehn Dry
Lake. Burro had grand plans for the tunnel, to haul ore through the ridge rather than down the "dangerous back trail." Even though a road down Last Chance Canyon to Mojave was completed in 1920, Burro dug on, using a pick and shovel and a burro to move almost 6,000 tons of rock. The vandalized remains of his house are just around the corner from the tunnel entrance and serve as a sad testament to human behavior.
We headed northeast to join Mesquite Canyon Road, then southeast down canyon to join the Redrock Randsburg Road near the Garlock townsite. We said our goodbyes, and aired up our tires. Dave headed east to 395, the Friedmans, Smiths and I headed west toward Mojave. It was a fine, fine day. ~ Jay
El Paso Mountains East Trip Report
Sunday, April 8, 2018
By Nelson Miller with photos by Jim Watson and Nelson Miller
We left the Desert Empire Fairgrounds on Sunday with six vehicles, including Nelson & Ellen Miller, David & Lois Hess, Jim Watson & Linda Sievers, Ron & Barbara Midlikoski, Dave Burdick and Larry Boreo. Our first stop was at a little grass shack, which unfortunately was posted "No Trespassing." In this case the owner really meant it, because he came roaring up on his quad after we had already left and politely told us to get off his property.
From there we proceeded on to a village site, probably from the Kawaiisu Tribe, although it may have also been occupied by Coso. It is thought the site may have been occupied at different times by the two tribes over the last two thousand years. We saw a fair number of petroglyphs and some possible check dams in the wash, although did not go to the upper area where there are possible rock alignments. As we continued toward Sheep Springs, the road was rougher than I remembered from five years ago when I was last there. We also passed by a newly renovated guzzler for quail.
We stopped at Sheep Springs for lunch. There was a little water in the excavated well. We also observed more petroglyphs and two large, twenty-foot and sixty-foot rock circles, which may have had ceremonial use. Larry Boreo left us at this point, having torn off the running boards on both sides of his truck. I told him it got even rougher from this point. Unfortunately, what I remembered from this stretch of Mesquite Canyon Road still held and it was very rocky. It was made worse, when once again I took a wrong turn and lead us down Goler Gulch. David Hess determined on his tablet GPS that we were heading down Goler Gulch, not the Canyon I intended. So, we backtracked, but not before going over a particularly difficult little ledge. Two other groups had to wait for us while we cleared this ledge. One of the groups consisted of Jeeps with a guy that was teaching them how to drive off-road. Earlier, we had passed them where he had a Jeep stuck on a steep bank on the side of a wash, demonstrating to them how to get out of such situations.
On the way out we passed the remains of Gerbracht Camp and Frenchie's Camp. All that remains at these sites are some slabs and part of a chimney. Nelson briefly related the story of Della Gerbracht who used to shoot at anyone she thought was trespassing near her claims. By the time we reached the Redrock-Randsburg Road, it was getting late, so we headed for home, bypassing stops to look at the townsite of Garlock and the former mill site there. ~ Nelson
2018 DE Rendezvous Wrapup
by Bob Jacoby
Even though the weather didn't completely cooperate, the 2018 Desert Explorers Rendezvous was a fun and action packed event. We had a solid menu of events and an excellent turnout of about 61 members. This represents around 60% of our members. That would be an excellent percentage for most organizations.
The weekend started on Friday (4/6) with two interesting inbound trips led by Sue and Bob Jaussaud (Boron/Randsburg area) and Bill Powell (Coso Mountains). Both of these trips were interesting with lots of mines and other ruins that everyone enjoys. The weather on that Friday was pretty good also with not too much wind for most of the way.
(Please click "Read More" for the rest of the story, and there are a lot of photos from the event too!)
Guest Speakerat the 2018 Rondy
Alexander (Sandy) Rogers
We were fortunate enough to have Mr. Rogers as our featured guest speaker at the 2018 rondy. He is the archaeology curator at the Maturango museum in Ridgecrest and is a consulting archaeologist.
Mr. Rogers was a physicist and engineer with the China Lake Naval Weapons Laboratory until retiring in 2002. He has written numerous papers on hunter-gatherer cultures of the Great Basin and the archaeology of rock art. He holds masters degrees in physics and anthropology.
He gave us an excellent presentation of the petroglyphs of the Coso region which includes the upper Mojave Desert and southwestern. He explained how obsidian can be dated and its origin traced. Obsidian arrowheads and tools are found along early native trade routes and their origin can be identified.
Eastern Sierra Canyons
By Bob Jacoby
I have taken dozens of trips through the years on Highway 395 traversing the Indian Wells Valley. On all these trips I noticed several canyons in the distance to the west in the Eastern Sierra. For a long time I wanted to visit these canyons and since the Rondy was in Ridgecrest this year, an exploratory trip to this area was most appropriate.
Our large group met at the Ridgecrest Fairgrounds on Saturday morning (4/7) of the Rondy weekend. The group consisted of the following individuals: Ellen Miller, Barbara and Ken Midlikoski, Bill Powell, Terry and Eileen Ogden, Leonard and Rebecca Freidman, Joan and Ted Berger, Jim Watson, Dave Burdick, Larry Boerio, Peter and Janet Austin, David and Lois Hess, Ken and Jill Eltritch, Frederick Raab, Bill and Julie Smith, Marian and Neal Johns , Steven and Sally Falstitch plus Yours Truly and the incredible Bill Powell. (If I left anyone out, my apologies.) Even though this was a large group everything worked out well as we were able to carpool to reduce the number of vehicles. It was a cool morning and the weather to the west looked threatening, but we intrepidly headed west toward the Sierras.
Our initial destination appeared on the map as Cow Heaven Canyon. The farther west we went into this beautiful canyon the worse the road became, but it was all very doable. As we progressed up the canyon, we noted Kiavah Wilderness signs of both sides of the road. This area was designated as wilderness as part of the California Desert Protection Act passed in 1994. This canyon is an area where the the Pinon Pines of the Sierras. All in all, it was very picturesque. We soon hit the end of the road at another wilderness boundary. We were forced to do a turn around and headed back down canyon to the north/south dirt road at the base of the Sierras. This road would take us to the turnoff to Sage Canyon which was next on our list.
The first thing we noticed as we started up the fairly rugged Sage Canyon Road was considerable greenery including the sudden appearance of willows. This is a pretty good indicator that there is water near the surface. The farther west we went on this road, the steeper it got. The more difficult it became and the worse the weather became as it began to rain. The rain soon became a downpour and we made the decision to turn around and head back before the mud would make things very difficult. It wasn't easy doing a turnaround with this many cars, but we accomplished the task with little problem and headed back down Sage Canyon. At the mouth of Sage Canyon we visited an old stone cabin which we missed on the way up.
Because of the continuation of threatening weather, we decided not to visit the next canyon south (Horse Canyon) and determined the best decision was to head back to Ridgecrest. Nevertheless this was a fun and interesting outing as far as we got and even though the weather forced us to cut the trip short, it actually added to the overall experience.
Our fun group then headed back on desert dirt roads toward Ridgecrest and the BBQ catered dinner that awaited us. We may do a Desert Explorer trip again to this area when the weather forecast is right. ~ Bob
Photos: Julie Smith, Bob Jacoby & Barbara Midlikowski
Trip Report: Trona Pinnacles
By Jerry Dupree
We were having such a great time at the Rendezvous that it was difficult to choose between all of the trips in the area. Dolly and I had volunteered to lead a tour to the Trona Pinnacles. Since we had never been there we researched it online and were given information from Bob Jacoby, which had a lot of useful information.
The Trona Pinnacles are located about 20 miles from Ridgecrest and about 20 miles from Trona. The area is an ancient dry lake bed and there are wave marks along the original shore line indicating that the lake was at least 60 feet deep. The pinnacles are made of calcium carbide formed underwater from steam vents under the lake bottom. The pinnacles vary in height to about 40 feet. There is nothing around them, so they are visible for miles and look like something one would imagine the surface of another planet to look like. The pinnacles have been the scenery and background for several movies and television commercials.
Of course we took the wrong turn from the road and wound up traveling quite a distance along the wrong side of a railroad track. I didn't realize how easily our four wheel drive vehicles could drive over the tracks and had visualized someone getting stuck on the tracks while a train would be coming. It was easier than I had thought.
We drove to the pinnacles and there was a welcome site of a restroom. There were no supplies available but we had toilet paper and hand sanitizer with us to share. "Don't leave home without it." I noticed a void of animal life because the area was so desolate of water and vegetation. No tracks or droppings in the area. There also was no shade to stop and have lunch. We improvised and sat in the shade of our vehicles.
The pinnacles were beautiful and some of us hiked up as far as possible, however the higher we climbed the more wind and blowing dust and sand, which was especially unpleasant for those wearing contacts.
Using a GPS, we were following a route to the nearest road back and some of us broke off to visit the Trona museum on the way back. We needed to pick up some supplies for the catered dinner, therefore we missed the Trona museum. It is our habit to visit museums everywhere we travel and we call it "museum hopping" which is also the least expensive thing to do on trips.
We were very glad to see the Trona Pinnacles and every other adventure as members of the Desert Explorers. ~ Jerry
Photos: Jerry Dupree
and Jay Lawrence
Rondy Inbound Trip to Coso Mountains
By Bob Jacoby
A group of seven of us met on Friday April 6 near Red Hill in Inyo County to begin the Rondy weekend with an inbound tour of the Coso Mountains. Our group consisted of myself, Leonard and Rebecca Friedman, Craig Baker, Bill Powell, and Ron and Barbara Midlikoski. It was a nice day and we all were anxious to kick off the Rondy weekend.
The Coso Range is situated on the east side of the Owens Valley at its southern end. The mountains are volcanic in nature with considerable geothermal activity. They are also a key source of pumice which is used as a cleaner.
Most of the range is within the boundaries of the China Lake Naval Air Station. We designed our excursion to explore the area that is not within the boundaries and is open to the public.
We headed north on 395 and turned east on a paved road about five miles north of Red Hill. After following this road east for several miles we came upon a high standard dirt road that headed north into a pumice mining area. There were some active mines nearby but we managed to find an abandoned mine at the end of a side road. Some research indicated that this site was mined in the 1960’s by Desert Materials Corporation of Los Angeles. At this site there were layers of white ash that were once shot out of a nearby volcano.
We traversed back to the well graded dirt, used by mining trucks today, and followed the road another couple of miles until we came to a much more obscure side road to the west. This scenic road took us to a beautiful Joshua Tree Forest which appears on the map as McCloud Flat. This beautiful scenery also included some wild flowers in bloom.
As we left McCloud Flat road the road continued to deteriorate and it was soon time to engage four wheel drive as we traversed a moderate sized playa. We then descended down into a steep canyon which immediately got everyone’s full attention. Everybody made it fine down the steep road where we came to a tiny cabin near the area of what on the map was called the Jack Henry Mine.
We stopped and explored the cabin and the mine remnants and really enjoyed the scenery and the great weather. After leaving the mine we continued down the canyon into an area identified as Cactus Flat. This was another Joshua Tree Forest and also quite a beautiful area.
As we continued heading west we encountered several more active pumice mines. It wasn’t long before the Haiwee Reservoir came into view in the distance. The Reservoir was
created in 1913 as a result of dam that was part of the Los Angeles Aqueduct System. Beyond the reservoir we encountered a ranch that was growing alfalfa.
It wasn’t long before we hit pavement and we eventually arrived back at 395 near Olancha. By that time we were all ready to head back to Ridgecrest to enjoy the Friday evening pot luck. We all agreed that the Rondy was off to a good start with this off the beaten path tour of the Coso Mountains. ~ Bob
Rondy Inbound Boron to Randsburg
By Sue Jaussaud
Our original plan was to lead this inbound trip as an exploratory, but when the number of participants went beyond 20, Bob and I could not imagine getting lost in front of that many people. We urgently needed to prerun the trip!
So bright and not so early on the Thursday before the Friday trip, we drove to Boron to begin our prerun. Skirting the huge Borax Mine tailings, we checked out 2 cinder quarries and some modern day ruins. Yawn. Things did become more interesting as we continued north, though. We found a long abandoned USAF radio site on a remote hilltop. There was a huge modern mural on one side of the building. Bob felt the vivacious young lady depicted riding a bomb looked a lot like Marian Johns.
Moving further north, we encountered the remains of a few homesteads and eventually located Castle Butte Well and more interesting art work. From the well we junctioned with 20 Mule Team Parkway and followed it to Galileo Hill.
There is a curious development on the north side of Galileo Hill named “Silver Saddle Ranch and Club”, complete with paved streets, landscaping, ponds, a petting zoo (are those llamas?), a golf course and a club house. It felt as if we had just entered a time warp. A lady at the reception desk was real enough, though, and graciously gave us permission to bring our group by the next day to use the restrooms. Silver Saddle Ranch was originally developed as a real estate venture by Nat Mendelson in the 1950’s. He was evidently hoping to create the next
Los Angeles. The place has changed hands a number of times and has a colorful history.
We were starting to lose daylight, so Bob and I worked our way northeast on the Randsburg Mojave Road, took a quick look at the abandoned
dwellings around the Blackhawk Mine, then skedaddled for our motel room in Ridgecrest.
It rained in Ridgecrest Thursday night, and the wind was howling the next morning. Heading south to meet our group in Boron, clouds of dust filled the air. Four wheeling in this stuff would be bad! Then inspiration struck. We had been told, by long time DE member David Mott, about a “20 Mule Team” mural at the abandoned prison north of Boron. No time like the present to check it out! We drove into the prison past many derelict, heavily graffitied buildings and finally located the mural, which was in surprisingly good shape. Our reaction was that everyone would enjoy seeing this and we needed to include it in the inbound. The beginning of “Plan B.”
Continuing our rush south on Highway 395, Bob remembered visiting a very cool antique collection in the old metal buildings at Kramer Junction. Arriving at the junction, we saw a side door was open and Bob dashed in to ask if it was possible to bring the group by. As luck would have it, the friendly owners, brothers Jim “Tinker” and Dennis Darr, were there and said the group would be welcome to visit. Another part of “Plan B” fell into place.
Pete and Janet Austin, Jim Watson and Linda Stevens, Dave Rehrer, Ron Lipari, Mike Vollmert, Mignon Slentz, Deb and Steve Marschke, Terry and Eileen Ogden, Bruce Barnett, Ellen Miller, Bill and Julie Smith, Vicki Hill, Dave McFarland, Glenn Shaw, Neal and Marian Johns were all waiting for us at the 20 Mule Team Museum in Boron. The weather was miserable and everyone was enthusiastic about our “Plan B.” Danny and Norma Siler, with their friend Paul, joined us for the first part of the trip.
We all drove back to Kramer Junction, to the huge private antique collection. It was great to see so many wonderful old things and be out of the wind and dust. After an interesting hour, Bob was Þnally able to pry folks away and our group
headed north to visit the prison and 20 Mule Team mural. The mural was done by the prison inmates sometime in the early 1980's. The Boron Prison was active from 1978 to 2000 and housed approximately 540 minimum security prisoners. The facility was originally established as a Radar Command Station in 1952. Thanks to David Mott for providing us with this information.
From the prison, we were able to resume the prerun route of the day before. Thanks are due to Ron and Mike for being a big help as "sweep" during the whole trip. Also thanks to our trip photographers:Vicki Hill, Janet Austin, Bill and Julie Smith. It was a good day with a great group of friends! ~ Sue
Desert Explorers Meeting Minutes
March 3rd, 2018
Attending: Jean & Sunny Hansen, Jerry & Dolly Dupree, Dave Burdick, Emmett & Ruth Harder, Allan & Ding Wicker, Neal & Marian Johns, Terry Ogden, Daniel Dick & Bobby Sanchez, Bill & Julie Smith, Jay Lawrence, Bob Jacoby.
Meeting Opened 11:35 a.m.
Previous minutes Approved.
Regrets Deb & Steve Marschke, Nelson Miller, Bill Neill
Treasurer As of the meeting we have 95 active memberships. Museum dues will be able to be paid at the same time as DE dues soon. We have seven new memberships since December 16. New subscribers are coming in through our
website and subscribing online. Current treasury $5,291.56, with website renewal and Rondy expenses pending.
Newsletter Going well, attaboys and compliments offered. Suggested running a bunch of DE business cards with just the logo and web address and giving out a bunch to each member to have on hand when talking to new people about DE. Will also check out a new run of bumper stickers. Report back next meeting.
Rondy Two inbound trips, Jacoby in the Cosos with Bill Powell, Bob Jaussaud Boron to Randsburg. Potluck Friday night with Bill Powell presentation teaser for the Hastings Cutoff trip. Two Saturday trips, Jerry Dupree to Trona Pinnacles, Bob Jacoby to the Sierras. Catered dinner with speaker Dr. Sandy Rogers on China Lake petroglyphs. Sunday trips: Nelson to the El Pasos, Jay to Red Rocks. NO ALCOHOL at Rondy site.
Website Deb reports no problem in the last six months, no cyber attacks. Up to date through February, archives have all of 2017 newsletters. There is now a linked photo memorial for Jerry Harada & Coop Cooper. Big Thanks to Crazy Suzy for all her work! Ham operator page is updated. All of Neal Johns hidden past is posted. The domain is renewed and current. Big Thanks to our WebGoddess Deb Miller Marschke!
Subscriber Guide Tabled. Updating the Guide has been on the back burner but we will endeavor to have it whipped into shape soonish.
Museum Work party was a grand success and greatly appreciated by Pat and the Museum crew. Also noted was how good the museum newsletter is looking these days. Good work!
Trips Post Rondy:
Next meeting May 12th at Ding & Allan Wicker’s home.
The Desert Magazine 1937-1985
By Michael Vermette
I’ve been in love with the desert since I was a kid. I grew up in San Bernardino and spent a lot of time exploring the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. After many years away, I’m again spending time exploring the desert back-country and seeing first-hand the evidence of the people, places, and events that took place when the desert was a true frontier. Whenever I run across an old cabin, I have the same questions. Who lived there and what was their story? What was their life like in such an isolated environment? While we can still find evidence of their existence, their stories are fading over time. Knowing the history of what I’m seeing has always made my explorations more enjoyable. I love to talk to the “old timers” about the desert but they’re also getting harder and harder to find nowadays.
One of my favorite resources for planning my wanderings is “The Desert Magazine.” If you’re interested in desert history, Desert Magazine will give you hours of enjoyment and allow you to better understand the rich history of our local deserts. You will conclude, as I have, that we’re lucky to live in this part of the world where rugged individualists paved the way for our modern Western spirit. I’m sure many of you have either heard of Desert Magazine or have even read issues and articles. I’ll attempt here
to pass on some additional info to those people and perhaps introduce some new people to a great resource for desert history.
In 1937, a man named Randall Henderson started up a modest little magazine that was simply named “The Desert Magazine.” The magazine contained articles about the deserts in California, Arizona, and Nevada written by people who experienced much of the history first hand and who clearly loved the beauty and serenity of the desert.
In the first issue published in November 1937, Henderson wrote an editorial titled “There Are Two Deserts.” This editorial set the tone for the many issues to follow. He said of the two deserts that “One is a grim desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insets, or vicious thorn-covered plants and trees, and unbearable heat. This is the desert seen by the stranger speeding along the highway, impatient to be out of ‘this damnable country’.” He also wrote “The other desert -- the real desert -- is not for the eyes of the superficial observer, or the fearful soul or the cynic. It is a land, the character of which is hidden except to those who come with friendliness and understanding.” From the tone of Henderson’s writing, you can see that he loved the desert and for this reason he was able to attract hundreds of authors who shared his understanding of the beauty to be found there.
If you aren’t already familiar with Desert Magazine, here are a couple of ways to find all 534 issues published between 1937 and 1985:
This website is apparently a labor of love dedicated to preserving the history of Desert Magazine. The clean and organized format allows you to read selected articles from various issues and to download copies of both single issues and annual archives from 1937-1985. There is no charge for downloading issues or archives and the website is free of ads or commercial banners. If you enjoyed it or found it useful, use the ‘Contact’ tab to let the author know his work is appreciated.
This website is a loyalist’s attempt to preserve and continue the legacy of Desert Magazine in the form of “The Desert Magazine of the Southwest.” It contains archived issues in convenient “flipbook” format. Unfortunately, the issues cannot be downloaded but it is a great place to read selected issues and browse their indexes. You can purchase a set of two DVDs containing all 534 issues in PDF format.
The spirit of Desert Magazine lives on. A writer by the name of John Grasson has published a new magazine titled “Dezert Magazine” (note the ‘z’ in the spelling) at http://dezertmagazine.com styled much like the original magazine and containing updated information of interest to all desert explorers. And yes, some of you may have noticed that the Desert Explorers Newsletter is also carrying on the spirit!
As to the original Desert Magazine, Randall Henderson continued on as publisher until 1958. You may have heard his name before as he played an important role in establishing Joshua Tree National Monument (now Joshua Tree National Park). Henderson graduated from USC in 1911 and initially worked as a sports reporter for the LA Times in college. He died in 1970, 12 years after selling Desert Magazine. The magazine was subsequently sold two more times.
Desert Magazine’s headquarters started out in El Centro, CA in 1937 but moved to Palm Desert in 1948. It continued to publish during WWII when the Army, represented by General George S. Patton, established the Desert Training Center. The center, needed to train the U.S. Army for the expected invasion of North Africa, covered 18,000 square miles of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Over 1.2 million men were trained at the Desert Training Center between 1942 and 1944. Many of the men trained there eventually moved to Southern California after the war and became readers of the magazine.
There is something for everyone in Desert Magazine. The writers, fellow explorers, and original ‘desert rats’ wrote stories about the indigenous people, miners, residents, artists, mineral collectors, plants, animals, and geology of the desert. Their tales often give us a glimpse of the human story behind the book history of the Southwest. You may also enjoy reading the advertisements that reflect the culture and technology of the era.
As you read through the issues, you’ll find that during the final years in the 1980’s, publication became spotty and the magazine struggled to stay alive. The magazine was published monthly until 1979, then with occasional gaps in issues until 1982, and then only sporadically thereafter until it finally went out of business in 1985. Attempts were made to re-start the magazine, but none lasted very long. You’ll find archived copies of “American Desert Magazine”, one of the several follow-on attempts, on several websites. While the enormous popularity and authenticity of Desert Magazine led to attempts to copy the format, none fully captured the spirit and authenticity of the desert found in the original.
In the last couple of years, I’ve used stories and articles in Desert Magazine to plan trips to local areas. The maps accompanying the article can give you an area and using Google Earth will likely pinpoint the location. Just knowing what was there in the early days can lead you to some great locations that may now only be ruins or rusted remnants. Some of the places talked about in the magazine are now in Wilderness Areas and are no longer accessible by vehicle. On the plus side, those places are often more intact and they can still be accessed by hiking trails or walking old abandoned roads. Knowing the history of a place before I visit makes it all the more enjoyable and fun to talk about around the campfire.
One of my favorite stories in the magazine is about “Pegleg Pete”, who supposedly found a very rich gold nugget field somewhere in the Chocolate Mountains. The story goes that the nuggets he found had a very distinctive color, having gained a ‘desert varnish’ from laying on the surface. Many have looked for Pegleg’s gold but it was never reported found. In 1965, the editor of Desert Magazine received a package with some gold nuggets from a man who claimed to have found Pegleg’s gold. The nuggets sent to the editor matched the story of Peg Leg’s ‘black’ nuggets. The mystery discoverer corresponded several times with the publisher, but his identity was never discovered. This fascinating story is contained in several issues of Desert Magazine starting in March 1965. The story was told again most recently at DesertUSA and can be found at https://www.desertusa.com/desert-prospecting/pegleg.html
I have a theory that every civilization needs a ‘frontier’, or place where rugged individualists and genuinely independent folks can go who just don’t fit in elsewhere. We don’t really have that kind of frontier any more but perhaps space exploration will provide one for future generations. In the meantime, I’ll just go wander around desert landscapes and breathe a bit easier.
Desert Explorers at Large
The Smiths (Bill & Julie) have been out-and-about helping with the annual Baker To Vegas law enforcement run March 16-17. Law Enforcement agencies from around the world compete in this desert relay race every year. We were assigned with the Amateur Radio group at Stage Four of the race along Hwy 127 about 30 miles south of Shoshone. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. we monitored race radio communications and kept track of the runners as they passed through our checkpoint. The teams were running the 120 mile course from Baker, CA through the night to reach the Finish in downtown Las Vegas. Each runner would run 5 to 10 miles and pass the baton to the next runner at each Stage along the demanding route. An exciting and inspirational event! For more info on this race: bakervegas.net